By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Anyone who’s ever taken a spinning class or worked out on the exercise equipment at a coed Buffalo Athletic Club has grown to appreciate the availability of small towels and sanitizing spray bottles throughout the four clubs.
One of the biggest surprises as I’ve checked out other fitness centers in recent weeks is the absence of these things. Wet Wipes yes, but those seem far less efficient or environmentally friendly.
Things changed this weekend, when I took a couple of spinning classes and checked out the digs at Hive: The Lifespan Center, in East Amherst, close to where I live.
My girlfriend’s daughter and fiancé are members here and rave about the place. Owner Christopher Salisbury – a former Gold’s Gym manager who looked to put together a more complete fitness experience when he opened Hive in April 2010 – has been among the go-to fitness experts I’ve turned to as a source since The Buffalo News launched Refresh last March.
Not only does this place have towels its members can bring into the group fitness rooms and cardio spaces, and towels you can use after a shower, spinning instructor Lindsay Meagher handed out cool washcloths scented with eucalyptus or lavender, or maybe both, after her class on Saturday morning.
Hive isn’t a gym for everybody. It costs more than most. But Salisbury has endeavored to bring some of the top fitness instructors in the region into his space, combine them with a wide range of exercise forms, and top it off with physical therapy, nutrition counseling and massage therapy services, as well as a juice/smoothie bar.
Salisbury told me recently, while I was reporting the Jan. 4 Refresh cover story on choosing a gym, that there are three things a gym can provide: the quality of the product; the quality of the service; and the lowest price.
“You can’t get all three,” he said, and many people sacrifice the first two for the third.
Hive – which stretches thinly along a storefront plaza it shares with a Tim Hortons, martial arts studio and a couple other retailers along Transit Road, south of North French Road – focuses on service and quality.
The club is offering a 30-day membership for $88 as it looks to chisel away some of the BAC coed members who want to consider other options now that LA Fitness owns those clubs. The California-based chain has given BAC coed members until Friday to decide whether they want to take their business elsewhere.
The monthly trial includes access to all the equipment and unlimited use of classes, which generally cost $5 a la carte for group fitness classes including spinning and $24 for specialty classes similar to group personal training sessions in other clubs, said Tom Frost, senior fitness director at Hive. It also includes four semi-private coaching sessions and a customized workout program with “no contracts, no hard sell, no pressure.”
Frost also made sure to point out that Hive accepts Silver Sneakers and other Medicare Advantage Plan-related discount programs for senior citizens.
I was able to get a one-week trial membership from a current club member.
I’m frugal, so I felt as though I landed on a different planet when overhearing some chatter in the men’s locker room after I arrived Saturday morning. Two guys were talking about taking flights out of Buffalo in a way I might talk about going to dinner in Amherst. Still, I liked the overall buzz of the place. Here’s what I experienced:
- Something different when I first stepped in from the cold and snow: Folks who work out here are expected to take their shoes off before they come in. No outdoor shoes are allowed in the gym.
- Club members come in all shapes, sizes and ages – though tend to be slightly better dressed than some folks in other clubs.
- The gym is open and airy, the group fitness classes small and intimate. The spinning classroom, for instance, has only 18 bikes, about half the number at the Independent Health Family Branch YMCA in Williamsville, and one-third the number at LA Fitness in Clarence and the former BAC Eastern Hills, where I’ve been a member for more than nine years. I took classes Friday and Saturday, and had to schedule a seat in advance for the classes, which were half-full at best.
- I’ve been blessed to have great spinning instructors over the years, but Meagher, who has a day job with Horizons Health Services, was a bit better. Her class was the hardest I’ve taken in recent weeks and she shouted out more instructions than I’m generally used to hearing. I’m used to: “Keep your shoulders down,” “Find a pace that is challenging but works for you” and “Get ready for jumps.” I rarely hear, “Your heel should be lower in this position” or “Your knees should be even with your pedals." She kept a closer eye on individual students, something you can’t expect an instructor in bigger classes to accomplish.
- The spinning music also is the choice of the instructors here, as is the case at the BAC and YMCA, but not the more corporate LA Fitness. Hive classes had a more decidedly modern mix than some of the other classes, including more dance music. I also heard REM, My Chemical Romance and Nickelback.
- The cardio machines share space with pockets of mats, flooring and other patches where trainers work with members one-on-one or in small groups. The place is loaded with kettle balls, resistance bands and resistance machines, as well as exercise equipment and free weights.
- Service here is top notch. When you’re new to a club, you don’t always know how everything works. For me, that included the lockers and the spinning room door, which slid open instead of pushed open. A non-judgmental staff member helped me deal with both. Another staffer grabbed a towel I mistakenly brought into the lobby as I was leaving Friday, and volunteered to take it back to the locker room area. All staff members smiled and were friendly. That wasn’t always the case in the bigger clubs I visited.
- The whole place was very clean, including the men’s locker room. I wished the lockers were bigger but the shower stalls were far better than I’ve seen in other clubs and the soap dispensers actually shot out enough soap with one hit.
The visit underlined the differences between budget gyms and those that offer a greater level of service.
It got me to thinking about all the people in Western New York who think nothing of dropping a few hundred dollars on a night out at a Niagara Falls casino or a weekend trip to Toronto, then balk about having to fork over a smaller sum over a year on putting together an exercise regimen that can improve their lives in a far more lasting way.
The visit also clarified how I expect to approach my fitness club membership for the rest of this year.
I’ll share my choice, and the process I used to get there, Monday in the Refresh Buffalo Blog.